In the book, 'Dune,' there's a saying of the Bene Gesserit: "Beginnings are such delicate times." I think that's true for stories as well as people, so I'd love to know what you think of this beginning.
SUMMARY: A story that begins the moment the manga ends and takes Kaiba, Mokuba and Yugi on a quest. Of course, as a wise and holy elf points out, seeking and finding are two very different things. Spoilers for the end of the series. Eventual Yami/Kaiba (or Kaiba/Yami.)
SPOILERS: Since this story starts the moment the manga ends, it is a spoiler for the end of the series.
MANGA NOTE: This story is based on the manga version of the Ancient Egypt arc. There are significant differences between the Ancient Egyptian arc in the manga and the anime. The main one is that Kaiba does not appear at all in the Ancient Egypt arc of the manga. He arrives at the very end, just as Yami goes through the door to the after-life. I will outline other differences as they become relevant.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Yugioh. I do admire Kazuki Takahashi for his skill in creating such vibrant characters and for his generosity in allowing the rest of us to borrow them for a few adventures of our own.
CHAPTER 1: ONCE UPON A TIME…
You are entering a fairy tale. It has dragons and dark magicians and a spirit who made his home in a puzzle: what else could it be? Not a modern fairy tale, for all that it starts in present day Egypt; for all its up-to-the-minute slightly slashed facade. For nowadays, wolves are vegetarians, and ogres, merely misunderstood. But, as the ancient map-makers warned, when you go beyond the borders of the world: here there be dragons.
(Some of them might even be on your side.)
I would say that it is my fairy tale, but it's not. I'm simply the one telling it. Because legalistic disclaimers aside, who can a fairy tale (or any other story for that matter) belong to, except to the characters living it?
You can say that this story starts with an ending, but what are endings for, except to make new beginnings of? And this one begins, as all fairy tales do, with the proper words: Once upon a time…
Once upon a time, Seto Kaiba was late.
He arrived just as the ceremonial duel was ending. Yami was in the fight of his life – with someone else. Kaiba could live with that. Beneath the temper and the craziness, Kaiba was a fair man. He knew Yugi had earned this duel with his 'other self.'.
Then Yami lost. Kaiba could live with that as well. Yami had lost before.
It was the sequel Kaiba couldn't accept… almost couldn't believe. Instead of living with his defeat, instead of taking his shiny new body and marching into his future… Yami chose to die. He strode through a door that led not to the present or future; with barely a glance back at his partner-turned-victor (much less one for his long-time rival.) Yami marched through a door which closed behind him and sank beneath the sand… but not before Kaiba's sharp eyes had caught the light gleaming from its borders, as if it was stuck slightly ajar… as if it was buried but not quite sealed… like a question waiting for an answer, or a promise waiting for fulfillment.
Kaiba could have accepted anything from Yami but his death. Although he was nowhere near ready to admit it: it was one loss too many.
I said this wasn't my story, and I told the truth. And so, it is time to let the characters speak for themselves…
"That damn fucking coward," I muttered over and over, as I strode towards the rejects huddled by the now-buried door. The loser-roster seemed complete. Even Isis was there.
"Hey, look who turned up, like a vulture." The bonkotsu's voice interrupted my thoughts, unprofitable as they were. It seemed like every time I could hear blood pounding in my ears, feel it throbbing in the pulse at my neck… every time I could taste the anger building in my throat… every time I was desperately holding on the fraying edges of my rage… the mutt was there, just waiting to light a match.
Usually it was his relentless mediocrity that irritated me, the way he settled for being third-rate. Didn't he know his deficiencies were supposed to eat away at him? He had needed Yugi to save his sister's sight – and that was okay with him. I thrust aside the thought that I had needed Yugi to save not just Mokuba's sight, but his life. And that was when my anger flamed into a white-hot rage.
Yami… I knew the name they all called him, although I had never used it, preferring to call him the other Yugi, preferring to remind him how insubstantial he was… Yami had made me believe in all his stupid, useless ideas about friendship and caring and letting go of my demons… he had made me believe that my life had possibilities, not just promises… and then the fucker had killed himself.
I turned to Jounouchi, waiting like a bug ready to be splattered.
"All that friendship bullshit was just an act, wasn't it?" I snarled. "He was never real to you, was he? He was this spirit whose job it was to bail out your sorry ass. And now that your ass is safe you don't give a shit if he lives or dies, is that it?"
"Fuck you, Kaiba," he said, but for once there was no heat in his words, and I knew I wouldn't be able to bait him. I looked for a new victim. My next words were calmer, but no less vicious. "What about you, friendship girl? Weren't you the one who told me that the most precious card you hold is your life? Weren't you the one who taunted me that I was trying to throw it away? What would you call this?"
She was staring at me in shock, as stunned as I by the fact that my anger was on behalf of someone besides me and Mokuba.
Or maybe she was just surprised I had remembered anything she said.
Of course I did. My memory had been trained just as efficiently as all my other reflexes. I remembered everything… no matter how trivial. Even though she had been wrong. I hadn't been trying to throw my life away that day, at Duelist's Kingdom. I had been trying to trade it for Mokuba's. There was a difference.
And that thought brought me full circle, to the kid I'd always ignored while waiting for his other self to appear. He was looking at me… those wrong-colored eyes swimming with useless tears.
"I freed him," Yugi whispered.
"Freed him from what?" I shot back. "From living? Some favor that was. Is that your idea of being a friend? I'm glad I don't have any then. I have to give you credit, Yugi – you sure had me fooled, with that caring act of yours. After all this time, did he really mean so little to you? I thought he was your 'other me'? Could you really give up a piece of yourself so easily?"
Mokuba tugged on my sleeve; pulled me a little to the side. I went reluctantly. If it was important enough for Mokuba to feel he had to interrupt me, and private enough for him not to want to say in front of the people he considered his 'friends,' I almost certainly didn't want to hear it.
"It's hard for Yugi, too… being the one left, the one who's supposed to go on with his life, being the one who's important enough for someone to give up everything for him…" his voice trailed off awkwardly. I didn't reply, because I didn't want to think about what Mokuba was saying or why. But it kept me from attacking Yugi again.
"What was he supposed to do, asshole?" the bonkotsu yelled, the anger back in his voice. "How in hell was he supposed to stop Yami?"
"I had no right to stop him," Yugi said quietly.
"No. But you had an obligation to be sure he was doing it for the right reasons." I said. "Are you so sure this is what he wanted? Yami told me at Alcatraz that after a loss you feel sad, but then the road of your future continues. Was that a lie? Or did he just not know how to live without a mission to fulfill, without you to protect, without a world to save? Could he really be that big a fraud?"
Yami could of course, but I didn't want to believe it.
"I thought I was sure…" Yugi said, and I could see him replaying every conversation they had ever had in his head.
"He wanted to discover his memories. He felt so incomplete… not even knowing his name…"
I snarled. It was an ambition I had never understood or respected, having spent so many years trying to destroy my own past. And names are over-rated, anyway. The birth name I had discarded and forgotten was much less trouble than the one that had become my trademark.
"It was Atemu… his name I mean. But… as much as he wanted to learn about his past, he was excited about the future, too. It's why he cheered for you against Isis," Yugi said, suddenly remembering my presence, again. "He was proud of you – the way you always were ready to face the future all the time."
I stared. It was hard to imagine being a topic of conversation in the Mutou household – at least in a good way.
"You didn't see Yami," Yugi went on, arguing more with himself than me. "He was so confident going through that doorway… but he always looked like that… even when he was wrong. Yami used to call me his wisdom… maybe he was waiting for a sign from me to slow down and think…"
I could hear the doubt starting to spread through his system like a virus.
"You getting your kicks, playing with Yugi's head, you bastard?" Jonouchi yelled. "Why would Yami go and throw his life away, if it wasn't what he wanted?"
I clamped my mouth shut. I could write a book on that particular subject. Mokuba probably agreed, because he looked at Yugi and said, "It's okay, Yugi. It wasn't your fault. I mean that body we saw was probably just a loaner for the duel right? And you guys couldn't go back to the way things were before, all stuck together. I mean you deserve a life of your own right? And the best way to thank him for sacrificing himself, is to live it to the fullest."
But Mokuba's words had the opposite effect.
"I don't know if the body was a loaner or not. And I don't know if we can bargain with fate. We didn't even try. But I know that Yami wasn't a quitter, that it would take more than one loss to make him give up. And I know that I can't rest until I'm sure this was the right decision… and that I was right to let him go." The tears were gone. Yugi lifted his chin. His determined stance should have made him look ridiculous. Instead it reminded me that I owed him for Mokuba's life and my own. "If you can open that doorway, I'm going through it," he said.
"You can't, Yugi," Anzu said quietly. "The door closed. We all saw it."
"It is a sign that this part of your lives is over," Isis warned.
"Then why didn't it close all the way?" I asked, pointing to the sliver of light still fighting its way free from the buried door, fighting its way to shine through the sand at our feet. "Are you going to pretend you don't see that beam of light when it's right there at your feet?"
Isis pressed her lips together. She refused to look at the ground. "I see nothing but the will of the gods."
"Are we back to that bullshit again?" I demanded.
"Maybe your brains really did get fried by the heat. It's just a trick of the light. It can't be real, no matter what it looks like. There's nothing here but a shitload of sand," the mutt burst out.
"I don't see anything. Is there really something there? Do you see it, Yugi?" Anzu asked.
Yugi nodded, his eyes fixed on the spot in front of him.
"Hey man," said the pointy-haired kid, "We all want to see something there. But wishing won't make it so. Tell your brother, Mokuba – you don't see anything either, do you?"
He was probably hoping Mokuba would influence me. But he didn't know my brother. Mokuba looked him straight in the eye, and said, "I don't need to look to know it's there."
"If the gods wished the door opened, they would not have buried it," Isis repeated.
I smirked at her. "Well then isn't it lucky the gods made someone smart enough to invent the fork-lift? If there's one thing Egypt has, it's plenty of equipment for moving sand without damaging the delicate archeological artifacts buried underneath. Nothing stays buried forever. Not even fucking pharaohs."
Thanks to Bnomiko for agreeing to beta the story. I'm betting you didn't know listening to me whine was part of the job description…
Thanks to Kagemihari, for reminding me when I asked her whether it was unbearably tacky of me to tack on my own ending: 'What are endings for, except to make new beginnings of?'
AUTHOR'S NOTE: One thing I've always loved about Yugioh is the fantasy element that runs through it. On the surface, Domino might look like a city in Japan, perhaps (unlike grandmother's big eyes) the better to fool us with, but it's a place where card games can cause you to lose your mind or help you regain your soul. On the surface it might seem like an ordinary small city in an ordinary country in an ordinary world… but that was before someone sprinkled some fairy dust in the air.